Meal Planning Monday ~ The Power of Breakfast

          We’ve all heard it.  “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”  Why is that?  A good breakfast revs up your metabolism, gives your brain and body fuel for the day, and prevents you from overeating at later meals.  “But I don’t have time for a healthy breakfast,” you’re thinking to yourself.  Yes, you do!  Here are some fast and nutritious breakfast ideas that will help you power through your busy days. 

~ Pancakes or Muffins.  With a little planning, it is possible to have a piping hot stack of pancakes or a warm muffin in the morning!  On the weekends, I will make double batches of pancakes or muffins and freeze the extras in individual serving sizes.  During the week, all that’s needed is a minute or two in the microwave or toaster, and you’ve got a hearty breakfast.  Try my Power Pumpkin Muffins, recipe below.

~ Eggs.  Sometimes, when I am waiting for my dinner to cook, I will whip up a batch of hard boiled eggs for the next day.  In the morning, I will eat a couple of the eggs with whole wheat toast and peanut butter.

~ Cereal.  When I am really pressed for time, I’ll just have a bowl of cereal.  My favorite is Kashi Go Lean Berry Crisp.  It’s high in protein and fiber, plus it tastes great and keeps me full for hours.

~ Smoothies.  Smoothies are great because they only take a few minutes to whip up and you can drink them in the car on your way to work.  Our favorite smoothie in the Luken household is called “Vanilla Blue.”  I first tried it when I was on Robert Ferguson’s 6-Day Detox Drop.  It’s so good, that Nick and I have this one several times a week.  Recipe below.

~ Protein Bars.  I always keep a protein bar in my purse just in case I have to eat breakfast on the run.  There are a lot of great tasting ones on the market now.  My personal favorites are the Luna and Clif Bars.


Vanilla Blue Smoothie  (From

½ cup of crushed ice

1 scoop of vanilla protein powder

1 cup of blueberries (fresh or frozen)

1 small banana, sliced (fresh or frozen)

6 ounces of water


Put all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.  Personally, I use frozen fruit for a milkshake-like consistency.  You can also add a few teaspoons of ground flaxseed for extra health benefits.


Christine’s Power Pumpkin Muffins

¼ Cup Ground Flax Seed

1 ½ Cups of Whole Wheat Flour

½ Cup Evaporated Cane Juice

1 Scoop of Vanilla Protein Powder

½ tsp. of Salt

½ tsp. of Baking Soda

2 tsp. of Baking Powder

1 tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice

1 Egg, Beaten

1 Cup of Canned Pumpkin (about ½ a can)

3 Tbs. Coconut Oil

½ Cup of Skim Milk

1/3 Cup of Chopped Walnuts


Directions:  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line muffin tin with cupcake papers, or spray with butter flavored cooking spray.  In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.  In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg, and then add the pumpkin, oil, and milk.  Blend the wet ingredients, and then add to the dry ingredients, folding in the walnuts.  Batter will be thick.  Fill muffin tins 2/3 of the way.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Makes 12 muffins, 175 calories each.

Notes:  You can freeze leftover canned pumpkin if you’re not making a double batch.  It will keep frozen for several months.  I typically make these in large batches and freeze them.  You can also sub in pureed bananas for the pumpkin, and cinnamon for the pumpkin pie spice.





Meal Planning Monday ~ Back-to-School Lunches

            Today’s post is by Leah Kelley.

             I just realized today that my daughter, Ivy, has only three weeks left of summer vacation.  Three weeks!?  Where did the summer go?  After I got over the mini-shock of summer flying by, the real shock hit me.  I have three weeks to get Ivy’s back-to-school supplies, clothes, AND figure out what she’s taking for lunch.  My daughter’s not particularly happy about packing her lunch this year, so I’ve been on the hunt for some fun and creative ideas.  Here are a few that I found.

 PB and Banana “Sushi” ~ My daughter loves these!  Take one piece of wheat bread and roll it out.  Spread with peanut butter then place whole banana in middle of bread.  Roll up and then slice into inch wide pieces.  Drizzle with honey.

Ham and Cheese Kabobs ~ Slide chunks of ham and cheese onto skewer.  You could also add chunks of pineapple.  The possibilities are endless when you make kabobs!

BLT Wraps ~

Frozen Fruit ~ I like to add a container of frozen cantaloupe or strawberries in Ivy’s lunch.  By lunch time they’re thawed out and they double as a freezer pack helping to keep her lunch cold.

Pinwheels ~ This website has 8 different ideas for pinwheels.

Meal Planning Monday ~ Adventures in the Kitchen

          I love being adventurous in life and in the kitchen!  In the past month, I’ve tried two new foods that I’ve never had before, and one that I haven’t had in years.  The first one is Swiss chard.  For some reason, I’ve been resistant to trying greens other than my old standby, spinach (which I love.)  When I was on vacation last month, my Aunt Claudia and I bought some baby Swiss chard at the farmers market in Michigan.  My Uncle Paul cooked it up for dinner and it was delicious!  I can’t believe I waited so long to try it.  Now, I’m inspired to try other types of greens, too. 

            I made quinoa for the first time two weeks ago.  Quinoa is actually a seed, not a grain.  It’s high in protein and gluten-free.  It cooks up like rice and absorbs the flavor of the spices you mix in with it.  My friend and cooking genius,  Julie Brawley, gave me a recipe for a Mexican-style quinoa which was awesome with grilled chicken and a salad.  (Recipe below.)  I’m now hunting for other quinoa recipes to try.

            About a month ago I did a 6 Day Detox to recharge and rev up my metabolism.  Brussels sprouts were one of the veggies on the detox menu.  As a kid, I refused to eat these mini-cabbage looking vegetables.  I tried them a few years ago at my sister-in-law’s house, but they were cooked in bacon grease.  (Because bacon makes everything better – and way more fattening!)   So I steamed the sprouts for my detox and tossed them with some Mrs. Dash’s seasoning and bit of olive oil.  They were okay, but not great.  However, Leah sent me a recipe for Grilled Brussels Sprouts with Whole Grain Mustard.  So, I am vowing to give them one last try before I write them off completely.  I understand that not all of my culinary adventures will be a smashing success and that’s okay.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

Here’s my Meal Plan for this week.  What new food have you tried lately?

Monday ~ Turkey Chili.  Mondays are always busy, so I’ll make use of one of my freezer meals today.

Tuesday ~ Grilled chicken tenderloins, hash brown casserole, and Swiss chard.

Wednesday ~ FFY (Fend For Yourself!)  I’m having dinner with a good friend at Bonefish Grill for $5 Bang Bang Shrimp and happy hour cocktails!

Thursday ~ Chicken Marsala with quinoa (instead of the usual rice) and a side salad.

Friday ~ I am SO excited for Friday’s dinner!  I am hosting a potluck with my Facebook recipe group.  Everyone is bringing a dish to share.  There are so many good cooks in that bunch; I can’t wait to see what everyone brings!

Saturday ~ Grilled salmon, potatoes, and grilled Brussels sprouts with whole grain mustard.

Sunday ~ Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans.


Fiesta Quinoa Pilaf  (From         


1 tsp. olive oil

1 tsp. sea salt

½ tsp. black pepper

2 cloves of minced garlic

½ tsp. ground cumin

½ tsp. chili powder

¼ tsp. cayenne pepper

2 cups of cooked quinoa

2 Tbs. lime juice

¼ cup chopped scallions

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro


Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and thoroughly combine.  Serve hot or cold.

Note: I cooked my quinoa with chicken broth instead of water.  I also substituted red pepper flakes for the cayenne pepper, since I was out.  I think this would also be good if you decreased some of the quinoa and added black beans.

Meal Planning Monday ~ Country Cooking

             This week’s post is by Leah Kelley.

            There’s nothing better than a spontaneous road trip during the summer!  After dealing with sewage backup in our condo and having the whole first floor under construction for a month to fix the problem, I desperately needed a get-away.  My husband and I decided last Thursday that we would take a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee for the weekend.  We had a wonderful time and can’t wait to go back!  (Yes, that’s our family pictured above.)  While we were down in Gatlinburg, we ate some nice country cooking.  Chicken and dumplings, country fried steak, and pancakes. I thought I’d share with you my top five favorite down-home country recipes.

Chicken and Dumplings ~ These are so easy in the crockpot.  Put in two cans of cream of chicken soup, a little water, uncooked chicken breasts and a little salt and pepper.  Cook on low 5 to 6 hours.  The last half hour, tear up a small can of biscuits and throw them on top.  This is one of my favorite meals to make.

Country Fried Steak ~ I haven’t perfected my recipe for this yet, as I’m still learning how to make the pan gravy.

Turnip Greens ~ On the way home we stopped at Cracker Barrel and I had some greens.  I love, love, love their turnip greens.

Fried Chicken ~ Nothing says country cooking like some fried chicken!  I have finally perfected my fried chicken.  It took me years to get it right and I had to consult my husband’s grandma on how to do it.  That woman makes the best chicken!

Meatloaf ~ I love meatloaf.  Lately I’ve been experimenting with different kinds, like taco and turkey meatloaf.  They’re good but nothing beats good classic meatloaf.

And of course, to go with all my favorites, I always make homemade mashed potatoes and gravy.  What’s your favorite Country Cooking dish?

Meal Planning Monday ~ Keeping It Cool


          First of all, I want to wish everyone a Happy Independence Day on Wednesday!  Second, I want to wish my wonderful husband, Nick, a very Happy Birthday today!

            For most of the country it has been miserably HOT the past few days and the weatherman is calling for more of the same this holiday week.  I don’t know about you, but when it gets this hot, I don’t feel much like cooking.  And I definitely don’t want to turn the oven on!  Does this mean that I throw the meal plan out the window?  Nope!  Here are some things I do to keep the kitchen cool when it’s this hot out.

  • I use the crock pot.  I’m always puzzled at people who put away their crock pots when winter’s over.  This awesome little appliance is in use at my house at least once a week.  You can make many of the same meals that are normally baked in the oven.  This past weekend, I put some bone-in chicken thighs in the crock pot with a bottle of BBQ sauce.  Easy and delicious!
  • I make use of my freezer meals.  Now is a great time to use your freezer meals!  Most of mine can be reheated in the microwave.  I’ve got some turkey chili that I’ll be having later this week.
  • Make the most of your grill!  Sometimes it’s nice for me to have a night off and let my grill-master husband cook dinner!  We’ll cook everything for our dinner on the grill, not just the meat.  Lately, I’ve been buying tiny Yukon gold potatoes and putting them raw on a skewer to cook alongside of our chicken and steak.
  • Don’t forget your toaster oven and microwave.  I really wanted garlic roasted asparagus the other night, which I usually make in the oven.  Then it dawned on me that I could use my toaster oven instead!  Same result with much less heat in the kitchen.  When it’s super-hot out, I don’t even want to cook veggies on the stove top.  So I keep a stash of Ziploc steamer bags to cook my veggies and keep the kitchen cool.
  • No-cook meals.  Sometimes, it’s just easier to make a nice big salad for dinner when it’s sweltering outside.  It’s easy to grill some extra chicken and keep it in the fridge just for this occasion.

What’s your favorite hot-weather meal?  Enjoy the holiday and stay cool!